Government’s additional £1.3 billion for mental health services is misleading

Adobe Spark (4)The Government has committed £1.3 billion to transform mental health services by 2021 (Health Education England (HEE), 2017). Stepping Forward to 2020/21: Mental Health Workforce Plan for England was launched by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who called it ‘one of the biggest expansions of mental health services in Europe’ (Department of Health, 2017). The funding will go towards the creation of 21 000 new posts, including 4600 nurses working in crisis care settings and 1200 nurses and midwives in child and adolescent mental health services.

Other policies include giving an extra 1 million patients access to mental health services at an earlier stage, round-the-clock services and the integration of mental and physical health services for the first time.

Examining the plan

The scale of these proposals is commendable and reflects the additional staff required to deliver the transformation set out in The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health (Mental Health Taskforce, 2016). Mental health provision has consistently been underfunded, therefore an update to place it more in line with physical health provision is long overdue.

For this reason, the announcement has been welcomed by many mental health campaigners and professionals. The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) led the way in commending the Government’s plans, with Professor Wendy Burn, President of the RCP, saying the 570 extra consultants promised in the strategy will be ‘crucial to delivering the high-quality, robust mental health services of the future’ (RCP, 2017). NHS Employers said service providers will welcome national support, particularly for ‘improved access to funding for continuing professional development for the mental health workforce, and facilitating increased use of international staff where required’ (NHS Employers, 2017).

However, despite the will to welcome these proposals it would be wise to take them with a pinch of salt. While the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) encouraged the investment, it said the Government’s proposals ‘appear not to add up’ (RCN, 2017). RCN chief executive, Janet Davies, stressed that in order for the nurses to be ready in time, they would have to start training straight away. Additionally, she cites how the scrapping of nursing bursaries has led to a ‘sharp fall in university applications’.

Attrition rates on the rise

Attrition rates for all mental health staff are rising. From 2012/13 to 2015/16, the number of people leaving mental health trusts has risen from 10.5% to 13.6% (HEE, 2017). The NHS currently funds over 214 000 posts to provide specialist mental health services in England. However, over 20 000 of these vacancies are predominantly filled by bank and agency staff (HEE, 2017). It is clear the sheer scale of growth cannot be met via the traditional training routes within this timescale, as in some cases this would mean doubling or trebling the workforce. While investment is needed in the development and reskilling of existing staff, or looking to the global market for recruitment, this is an unrealistic aim.

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) is one of the groups who have raised concerns over vacancy rates. Julia Scott, CEO of the RCOT, said health and care services across the country are experiencing real difficulties in filling existing vacancies, with vacancy rates for occupational therapists of up to 50% (RCOT, 2017). She stressed that rapid action is needed to address this crisis if commitment is to be delivered.

The British Medical Association (BMA) echoed worries over recruitment, stressing insufficient psychiatry trainees across England and a high percentage of trainees not completing training in the specialty. BMA consultants committee deputy chair and consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Gary Wannan, said: ‘In 2014, one in five doctors undertaking core psychiatry training did not progress into the final part of their training’ (BMA, 2017).

Government pledge still insufficient

Currently, 15.8% of people with common mental conditions access psychological therapies each year. However, even with the Government’s proposals this will only increase to 25% by 2020/21 (HEE, 2017). This is still an unacceptable figure
and one that is emphasised by the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), who said the announcement falls far short of what is needed to offset the growing demand for NHS mental health services.

According to UKCP Chair Martin Pollecoff: ‘To meet even existing demand, the Government should take advantage of the vast existing workforce of therapists. UKCP alone has more than 8000 highly qualified trained psychotherapists from different backgrounds, and many of them have medical experience’ (UKCP, 2017).

Origin of investment misleading

This is not the first time the introduction of £1 billion for mental health services has been proposed. In 2016, then Prime Minister David Cameron announced almost £1 billion of investment as part of a ‘revolution’ of mental health treatment (Prime Minister’s Office et al, 2016). This commitment from the Government sounds impressive, but has to be considered in the context of cash terms rise in the NHS budget generally. The Government has pledged to increase NHS spending in England to £120 billion by 2020/21
(HM Treasury, 2015). For mental health spending to grow at the same rate as the rest of the NHS, around 11.9% of the extra funding given to NHS England needs to be spent on mental health (Full Fact, 2016). This works out at roughly £2.2 billion. This figure far exceeds the £1.4 billion pledged in the most recent announcement and clearly represents a slower rise in spending than other parts of the NHS.

Simply not good enough

At first glance, the Government’s proposals appear to be the desperately needed boost to mental health services, which should be welcomed. However, the explanations of how additional posts will be funded or the recruitment issues overcome does not add up and are simply not good enough.

The Government has sugar-coated the amount of investment pledged and the figure still falls far below what is needed for mental health. It therefore comes as no surprise that Labour’s Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Barbara Keeley MP, said the workforce plan: ‘offers little hope to those working in the sector faced with mounting workloads, low pay and poor morale’ (The Labour Party, 2017).

References

British Medical Association (2017) BMA responds to Department of Health mental health workforce plans. BMA, London. https://tinyurl.com/ybtgxye8 (accessed 29 August 2017)

Department of Health (2017) Thousands of new roles to be created in mental health workforce plan. DH, London. https://tinyurl.com/y9akdjdr (accessed 31 August 2017)

Full Fact (2016) Unanswered questions on “extra £1 billion” for mental health. Full Fact, London. https://tinyurl.com/y7oyy8qc (accessed 1 September 2017)

Health Education England (2017) Stepping forward to 2020/21: The mental health workforce plan for England. HEE, Leeds. https://tinyurl.com/ycebebna (accessed 25 August 2017)

HM Treasury (2015) Spending Review and Autumn Statement 2015. The Stationery Office, London

The Labour Party (2017) Tory Government promising jam tomorrow when action is needed today to tackle the staffing crisis in mental health – Keeley. The Labour Party, Newcastle upon Tyne. https://tinyurl.com/y7db35pf (accessed 29 August 2017)

Mental Health Taskforce (2016) The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. NHS England, Leeds. https://tinyurl.com/gvc4or3 (accessed 25 August 2017)

NHS Employers (2017) NHS Employers welcomes plan to prioritise mental health services. https://tinyurl. com/ydg8h3ca (accessed 29 August 2017)

Prime Minister’s Office, 10 Down-ing Street, Department of Health, NHS England, The Rt Hon David Cameron, The Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP (2016) Prime Minister pledges a revolution in mental health treatment. Department of Health, London. https://tinyurl.com/z69jcpc (accessed 1 September 2017)

Royal College of Psychiatrists (2017) RCPsych response to HEE’s Mental Health Workforce Plan. RCPsych, London. https://tinyurl.com/yc2p93k8 (accessed 25 August 2017)

Royal College of Nursing (2017) RCN responds to Mental Health Workforce Plan. RCN, London. https://tinyurl.com/yavm3ulq (accessed 25 August 2017)

Royal College of Occupational Therapists (2017) Royal College of Occupational Therapists welcomes an expansion in the mental health workforce. RCOT, London. https://tinyurl.com/ycl9bss2 (accessed 25 August 2017)

UK Council for Psychotherapy (2017) We urge the Government to use existing therapist workforce to plug treatment gap. UKCP, London. https://tinyurl.com/ydfojrpk (accessed 29 August 2017)

Taken from British Journal of Mental Health Nursing, published September 2017.

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